EBRI Issue Brief

Future of Health Benefits in the Workplace: Employers’ Perspectives During the COVID-19 Crisis

Nov 5, 2020 12  pages


  • The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) conducted over two dozen interviews with benefits executives representing a wide array of firm sizes and industries, accounting for more than 500,000 employees in the United States and over $3 billion in health benefits spending, focusing on the future of workplace-sponsored health benefits.
  • Unsurprisingly, firms were preoccupied with navigating the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Maintaining a safe work environment for employees who must report to work on-site and engaging employees who are working from home were top of mind.
  • Interviewees expressed optimism about the future of telemedicine. While in-person elective care was delayed by employees at the outset of the pandemic, telemedicine engagements have increased significantly. Several interviewees indicated that telemedicine visits act as a substitute for emergency room and urgent care visits, which could prove to save employers money. However, others noted that their employee populations would likely revert to seeking care in person from their primary care physicians once the pandemic is over.
  • Instead of using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to rework their benefits programs, most firms are retrenching their current benefits offerings and taking a wait-and-see approach.
  • Among our interviewees, there was little appetite for severing the link between employment and health benefits. In particular, many employers still viewed this as a differentiator from their competitors, a useful tool to retain high-quality employees, or both. However, many interviewees indicated that they would consider dropping health benefits if their competitors started doing so.
  • Our interviewees were split on the role of government and individuals in health care. In general, firms were curious about the potential effects of a Medicare buy-in program. However, we also heard from our interviews a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to achieve specific policy goals in the health care market.